Jan 10, 2007

On Fair Use Standards, Vinegar, and Honey

Original image created by historymike using public domain images

(Toledo, OH) I received an angry email from an individual (who will remain anonymous) who owns a company with a Web page. I used a photo from this company's website on an article many months ago, and - despite a disclaimer and giving a link to his site - the business owner wanted it removed.

The photo itself was inconsequential, and similar photos were readily available from hundreds of sites. I picked one of the first that I came across on Google Images, and added the source citation.

Fair enough, though, if the man wants the image removed. While I, in good faith, make every effort to follow the standards of fair use, I am also a reasonable person. What surprised me, though, was the tone used by the complaining individual (I left some, but not all, of the profanity in for flavor):

Fair use my ass. You troll the net and steal material. I am sick of encountering people like you. I find my material stolen far too often. What is even more galling is that you know where it comes from and state that you have permission.....If you were to check out our website, you would see a copyright notice at the bottom of every fucking page.

[Note: I suggested that he add a more detailed disclaimer, something along the lines of "Unless otherwise indicated, the material on this site is the intellectual property of ______, and may not be reproduced without written permission."]

Zing! As I am not a person who goes through life making enemies, I removed the photo as a matter of courtesy. That being said, there is also the matter of how to handle someone else using your material.

Were I the sort of person who enjoys Internet wars, this would be an excellent time to fire up the keyboard. Here is a person accusing me of theft and bad faith, simply because I used a photo and correctly cited the source.

I wrote to the business owner that "as my grandmother said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Truer words have never been spoken, but I would hazard a guess that this person will be much less successful the next time he attempts to deal with the evolving legal issues of fair use by acting like a cyber-Tyrannosaurus.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that the Internet is changing the nature of information retrieval and copyright laws, and if you are worried about someone using your work, you would be better served by keeping it offline.


Anonymous said...

If I had gotten that obnoxious letter, I would have given him a two word response-"Eat me."


Mark said...

Ah, so nutjob might next try to sue you (and this is easier since a Supreme Court case handed down yesterday says that challenging patents is okay, opening the door to who-knows-what), and according to the law, shell out thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees in order to lose.

But what a golden age for the intellectual property lawyer! You better believe what classes I'm taking next year.

microdot said...

Are you familiar with the current controversy about a blog site called Spocko's Brain? Spocko, a Californian blogger got upset with the San Francisco talk radio station KSFO, a virulent proponent of right wing hate.
The station features commentators that revel in hate speech of all stripes and make call in listeners insult the Koran to prove they are not Islamic.
He taped examples of the over the edge stuff and put it on his site along with transcipts and started a campaign to have people notify the sponsors abouut how their products were being sold. The station is owned by Disney.
He became the target of threats and recieved cease and desist letters from lawyers after the station actually lost advertising with Master Card, Visa, Kaiser and Fed Ex due to his campaign.
On Dec. 22, Disney succeeded in having his blog shut down by contacting his server. Everything he had done was covered by the fair usage statutes. It was simply free speech and citizen action, the kind of thing we all engage in.
If you are interested in learning more and perhaps how you could get involved with the fight to Free Spocko's Brain, check out On Line Blog Integrity. There is a real blog swarm occuring now and it's getting bigger by the hour!
Fight the Rat!

Roland Hansen said...

I could not agree with you more on this. Cyberspace is a wide open frontier. If folks do not wish their material referenced, used or cited, then they should not put it in cyberspace for all to see and whatever.
Tell 'em all to go 'stifle' themselves to borrow a term from Archie Bunker. Oh, maybe I should cite the source better, or maybe I shouldn't even borrow that term!!
Horse feathers!!!!!!

historymike said...


Nah, not my style. I'd rather live and let live.

historymike said...

Agreed, Mark, about the upcoming boom for lawyers with Internet savvy.

The same is true for many fields. As a historian, I am amazed at how slow my discipline has been at understanding how the Inetrnet is changing what we do.

historymike said...

Thanks for the Spocko tip, Microdot. I'll have to read more.

historymike said...

(laughing at Roland)

Lisa Renee said...

hmmm, then I probably wasn't very courteous in the post I wrote proclaiming the spammer who purposely bought the liberalcommonsense domain was an asshat...